These scripts are starting to feel a little repetitive. For the 3rd times in 3 games, the Avalanche took a lead into the 3rd period against the Wild. For the 3rd time in 3 games, the Avalanche lost said lead and the game went to overtime. And, for the 2nd time in 3 games, the Avs lost the game after an unlucky bounce. As usual, the end result was 3-2.
All three games have been nail-biters from beginning to end. There's been just one 2-goal lead, and that lasted for all of 9 minutes and 54 seconds. Each of these games could have gone either way - a couple of different bounces, and this series could easily be 3-0 for either team...or 2-1 for the Avs.
As per the norm, the Avalanche got on the board first with Andrew Brunette banging home a Joe Sakic rebound at the 15:19 mark of the 1st (prompting the obligatory 2003 playoff highlight that we just can't get enough of). This play started deep in the Avalanche zone with Sakic lending a helping hand to Jeff Finger along the boards. Sakic grabbed possession, passed it up to Bruno at the blueline who dished it across ice to Wojtek Wolski. Wolski made what is becoming his go-to move - speeding up ice and then finding a seem inside the opponent's blueline to circle back and wait for help. When that help arrived, he dished to Sakic who fired it on net. Meanwhile, Brunette went straight to the net unmolested and had an easy tip in of the rebound that bounced right to his stick.
That lead would hold until the 3rd, but it really should have been larger. The Avalanche put up 29 shots on Niklas Backstrom in the first two periods and had five powerplays (including two that were essentially four minutes of back-to-back time). The Avs had a lot of chances here, especially with the man advantage when they spent most of their time in the Wild zone (on one, they were inside the blueline for all but 5 seconds). You just new the squandered chances were going to come back to haunt us later.
The Wild have yet to score in the first two periods in the series. They did manage to get the puck past Theodore early in the 2nd of last night's game. However, the goal was quickly called off as Aaron Voros had tackled Jose Theodore on the play. It was the 2nd time in the game Voros had gotten tangled up with Theodore (Theo punched Voros when he wound up inside the net in the first period), but it wouldn't be the last time for Voros to hurt his team in the goal crease.
While the 1st two periods have belonged to the Avalanche this series (4 goals to none), the Wild have owned the scoring in the 3rd. Last night, of course, was no exception. The Avs actually controlled much of the play in the 3rd, outshooting the Wild 10-4. But they made two uncharacteristic defensive lapses and it cost them. At the 7:13 mark, the always dangerous Todd Fedoruk dumped the puck into the zone and went in to chase it down, out-hustling Kurt Sauer to the puck. Meanwhile, Mikko Koivu (who else?) had come in off a line change and somehow avoided the attention of everyone on the ice. Thinking Fedoruk was the only player in the zone, Adam Foote went to the corner to help out Sauer while Joe Sakic and Wojtek Wolski - both at the end of a shift - were busy exchanging cookie recipes or something similar. Fedoruk blindly centered the pass to a wide open Koivu in front. Just like that, the game was tied 1-1.
Later, with Koivu in the box for tripping, the Wild would take the lead. The Avs were in the middle of their 5th (and, ultimately, final) powerplay. While watching the game, I had a thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to move the ineffective Paul Stastny off of the first unit of the powerplay. Almost immediately after having that thought, Stastny made a weak pass to Sakic at the point that was intercepted by Pavol Demitra. Sakic tried to pinch in to grab the puck, but Demitra was gone with Rolston riding shotgun. John-Michael Liles raced to get back and slid to try to stop the centering pass, but, really he and Theodore were toast on this one and Rolston scored an easy shorthanded goal. The Wild would manage just four shots in the 3rd period...but they converted on two of them.
Although it's been tough watching the Avalanche blow leads, I have continued to be impressed with their resiliency when things don't go their way. The Rolston goal could have easily been the decider, but the Avs weren't done. With just over five minutes to play, the Avs new line of Forsberg, Sakic and Brunette tied the game. Forsberg and Bruno both applied pressure down low and Forsberg got a shot off from the side of the crease. Backstrom made the save, but the puck found it's way into the slot and to the stick of Sakic. Meanwhile, Voros made his presence felt again, this time depositing Brunette right into the lap of Backstrom. Backstrom had absolutely no chance of stopping Sakic's backhand. Perhaps we need a new hat trick added to the hockey vernacular. We know about the Gordie Howe hat trick. Maybe we need the Voros hat trick - causing 1 goal to be scored on your team while having a goal for your team waved off.
And on to overtime we went.
I've never been to Denver, other than driving through once as a kid. I can't speak at all about the altitude thing, but I do know this: the next time a broadcaster mentions the thin air as being a detriment to visiting teams, I'm going to think about this game. In OT, the Avalanche were absolutely gassed while the Wild seemed to actually increase their energy. After outplaying the Wild for much of the game (the Avs outshot the Wild in each of the first 3 periods), the Avalanche seemed to have nothing left in the tank. Perhaps it was better bench management (the Wild's average shift time was 40 seconds to the Avs 43), perhaps not. Whatever it was, the Wild seemed to handle the altitude just fine and skated circles around the Avs in extra frame. It was really just a matter of time before the scored, which they did at the 11:58 mark. That's the point where a bad bounce killed us. Again. Pierre-Marc Bouchard fired the puck all the way down the ice from inside his blueline. Jeff Finger went back for it, and just needed to touch the puck to have it be icing. Brian Rolston was in the vicinity, but Finger seemed to have a clear lead to the puck and took the less dangerous route to the left side of the net and readied himself to get the whistle.
It didn't happen. Instead, the puck took a funny bounce off the end boards and boinked into the side of the net instead of continuing around to Finger. This gave Rolston the chance he needed. He grabbed the puck, circled around, and before the Avs could say "uh-oh", found Bouchard all alone in front of Theodore. Theodore, who had just minutes before stoned Gaborik and Demitra on back-to-back plays, seemed all heroed out. He half-heartedly waved at the puck as it sailed past him.
In the regular season, Jose Theodore got better as the game progressed. His save percentages by period were:
- .938 (OT)
In the playoffs? A completely different story:
I'm not at all pinning the blame on the chest of Theo, but I do think it's worth pointing out that in the regular season Theodore would routinely save his best for the 3rd period and overtime, which came in handy when he needed to save the bacon of his teammates. That just hasn't been the case so far. He hasn't been as bad as his save percentage indicates in the 3rd...but he hasn't saved our bacon either. Remember, this is the guy who allowed just ONE 3rd period goal in his final 9 starts, stopping 64 of 65 shots - a .985 save percentage (of course, that one goal was to...Brian Rolston). He's allowed 6 3rd period goals in the postseason; he gave up 6 3rd period goals in his final 19 regular season games. And it's also the guy who allowed just TWO overtime goals all season long (again, one of those was to the Wild) and now has two in the postseason. I have to admit, I didn't see this coming.
I have a couple more quick thoughts before closing it out.
First, Ian Laperriere had a hell of a game. He had numerous crucial blocks (somehow, he only was credited with two), bit hits, and made two terrific stickhandling plays on the kill to get his team out of trouble. And he and his line were very effective on the forecheck and I think they earned more ice time than they received. Perhaps if they had, some of the other players wouldn't have been so out of gas.
Second, Paul Stastny continues to disappoint. For a guy who's seemed so composed as a rookie and a sophomore in the NHL, he's looked a bit like a deer in the headlights in his first taste of the postseason. After struggling defensively in the first game, he's at least gotten his own-zone swerve back on, but he still looks afraid of making a mistake in the offensive zone. And he's been getting his hat handed to him in the faceoff circle (27% last night). That magic he had with Forsberg and Hejduk towards the end of the season has worn off quickly. Last night, Forsberg was moved in the 3rd to the Sakic line with Ryan Smyth moving to the top line. (That moved poor Wolski and his 3 postseason assists to the black depths of the abyss Arnason line).
Theodore: Again, absolutely incredible in first 2 periods, and then, well, ordinary. Not that there weren't flashes - those two overtime saves on Gaborik and Demitra were incredible. But Backstrom was better when it mattered.
Sakic: Sakic had a key hand in both Colorado goals and also had 8 shots in the game. That's a huge check mark, even though he definitely faded after his tying goal.
Physical Play: The intensity of hitting has trailed off a bit from the first game. Aaron Voros had 7 hits in the game, but most of those were one of the goalies. I think the last two games have been generally even here after seeing the Wild jump to the hitting advantage in game 1.
Special Teams: The Avs looked great on the powerplay and did everything right but put the puck in the net. Unfortunately, that's kind of a big "but". Had the Avs scored just once with the man advantage, I think they win the game. To add insult to injury, they gave up a shorthanded goal.
Keeping the lead: Oof.
- Now that the Avs have final change, how do they manage to allow Gaborik to take 9 shots?
- The Wild are starting to block more shots. They went from 7 in game one to 11 in game 2 to 18 in game 3.
Game 4 is tonight. Obviously, this is about as must-win as it gets. Win, and we're back to 2-2. Lose, and we're down 3-1 with two of the final three games (if needed) in Minnesota. I hope the Avs can find their legs...
A bounce off a skate there and a crazy hop off the boards here and, suddenly, the Avalanche is in serious trouble. - Rick Sadowski, Rocky Mountain News
For the last 3 1/2 weeks, I’ve written story after story about the no-touch icing debate. And tonight, the Wild wins the game because Brian Rolston beat out an icing. - Mike Russo, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The hockey gods sure have a sense of humor. If you recall, about a month ago Kurtis Foster was run into the boards on an icing play about a month ago that resulted in a broken femur for Foster, ending his season and putting the Wild shorthanded on D for the playoffs. After that play, the outcry from Minny, me included, was that we needed no-tough icing. The other leagues have no-touch icing, and how many icings are actually negated by an offensive player beating the defensive player to the puck? Well, tonite the sentiment around the State of Hockey is undoubtedly, "I love touch-up icing!!!" - J., Wild View from Section 216
Gee, you have to wonder how the Minnesota Wild feels about the prospect of no-touch icing this morning. - Ken Campbell, The Hockey News
Should we have expected anything less than another overtime? If you haven't caught on now, these teams are matched up so evenly, if not painfully, that for a third game in a row our heart rates were forced to race and our blood pressure continued to raise. - Dan, Deuce by Definition
I consider myself a relatively savvy hockey consumer, and yet I have to admit I've been on the edge of my seat in each of these games. That old, familiar clenching of the gut. Imagine what it's like down on the benches? - Wild Road Tripper, Hitting the Post
Another first period goal for the Avalanche. Another stellar first two periods. Another blown lead in the third period. Another overtime. Another loss. - Joe, Mile High Hockey
A team that should also be apologizing today is the Colorado Avalanche for otherwise tainting what could have been the best NHL experience of my life. Well, the Avs and the guys in Armani suits who sat behind us and seemed to take issue with the fact that we were shouting the entire game…because you know, people do that sporting events. - Aaron D'Albey, The Dog and Pony Show
I think it’s time for Jeff Finger to get the hook and make way for Jordan Leopold for Game 4. And I’m not saying this JUST because of his loafing play that led to tonight’s game-winner for the Minnesota Wild. I’m saying it because, well, I think Finger is just too slow sometimes, and in this series, I think you need a quicker, more nimble guy with the puck and Leo can be that guy. - Adrian Dater, All Things Avs
The Avalanche defense looked tired, and the scoring chances dried up at the other end — after the Avs put 39 shots on the Wild in the first three periods and had the better jump. The Wild had 27 shots, but the Avs never could extend a 1-0 first-period lead. - Adrian Dater, Denver Post
Here's perhaps the most ominous news for the Avalanche: Colorado has kept the Wild's Marian Gaborik off the scoresheet in all three games, in part because of Adam Foote's and Kurt Sauer's work as a defensive tandem and also the play of Jose Theodore, yet trails in the first-round series. - Terry Frei, Denver Post
Avalanche defenseman Scott Hannan is hurting right now with a sore leg, but the veteran gritted it out to play Monday in Game 3. - Denver Post
It would be remiss of me not to mention that this game only made it to overtime thanks to Andrew Brunette. With only seconds left on the clock, Brunette dove to break up a pass that surely would have led to a Wild goal. The Wild had been buzzing, passing the puck around with ease in the Avalanche zone and Jose Theodore was down and out after trying to follow the puck for what must have felt like an eternity. - Shane Giroux, Colorado Avalanche Talk
For a moment, it was easy to believe it had not been almost five years since Andrew Brunette scored a huge goal in a playoff showdown between the Avalanche and Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center. - Pat Rooney, Rocky Mountain News
Great win for the Wild–just hope they have some gas left in the tank tomorrow (Burns - 32:21, Johnnson - 31:36, Skoula - 30:12). Of course, the old men Avs should be just as tired, but we’ll see tomorrow night. - David Kinsbury, Hockey in Minnesota
Backstrom, a second-year goalie from Finland, has coped with the stress of three overtime games well and his calm demeanor in the crease has helped Minnesota take a 2-1 series lead against the Avalanche. - Aaron J Lopez, Rocky Mountain News
Gaborik had his best game of the series. He was very active, agressive and got 9 shots on goal. Burnsie was HUGE again and Backstrom, what can you say about Backstrom? He was awesome last night. Roy, Wild Puck Banter
Wild forward Mikko Koivu is stepping into the spotlight. What Marian Gaborik isn't doing, the young Finnish forward is handling. - Mike Chambers, Denver Post
In overtime the Wild seemed to have more energy late in the game and that really proved to be the difference. It will be interesting to see what sort of energy the Wild can muster tomorrow night when the two teams faceoff again. - Derek Felska, MVN